Archive for August, 2015

Jake Arrieta Gets His Celebration

Not all no-hitters are thrown by No. 1 starting pitchers. And, not all No. 1 starting pitchers eventually throw no-hitters. This is a crucial truth — randomness always plays a significant part, so a no-hitter can be meaningful without being predictive. Yet, when a No. 1 starting pitcher does throw a no-hitter, it feels a little like validation. It feels a little like a stamp, cementing the reality that said pitcher is an ace. Jake Arrieta spun a no-hitter on Sunday, after having made several earlier attempts. Arrieta was a No. 1 before the weekend, but now he’s more widely recognized as part of the group. Doesn’t need to work that way, but that’s the way it works.

And it’s never a bad time for a reminder of just how good Arrieta has been. See, this can benefit everyone. People who didn’t know Arrieta before now know that he’s good. And people who did know Arrieta before might be less inclined to underrate him. This has gone on for some time. Since the start of last season, Arrieta is tied for second in baseball in ERA-. He ranks third in FIP-. He’s fourth in xFIP-. If you add all the numbers together, Arrieta ranks second in the resulting statistic, sandwiched by Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. No-hitters are always a little lucky, but the bigger point is Arrieta required less luck than most. Because, simply, he’s far better than most. It’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

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Where Stephen Piscotty Got the Power

Going into the season, Stephen Piscotty was projected to be a contact and patience guy because that’s what he’d been in the minor leagues for the most part. But this offseason, he had a plan, and he changed his approach and mechanics in order to be a better player. Perhaps the projections going forward are a little light, given the changes he’s made.

Preseason Steamer projections had Piscotty with a .114 isolated slugging percentage, on par with Logan Forsythe and Ryan Sweeney. After a power surge in Triple-A for 370 plate appearances, and four major league homers, the rest of season projection is now up to a .133 level, or Coco Crisp and Desmond Jennings level.

That’s improvement, but what if he’s fundamentally changed and the projections are still light?

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On the Nature of Writing and Fandom

On Friday, in the midst of a fifth losing season in the last seven years, the Mariners fired general manager Jack Zduriencik. In the few hours that followed that announcement, I got a series of texts and emails from friends and acquaintances, all with the same general theme: “Congratulations, your team now has a chance to be decent again!”

And changing leadership probably will help the Mariners — though if the lingering Kenny Williams rumor proves true, this change could prove less like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and more like using those deck chairs to puncture all the remaining life rafts — given the struggles the team has had during Zduriencik’s tenure at the helm. But despite that fact, I didn’t react to the news with celebration, or even any kind of relief. Instead, my reaction to Zduriencik’s dismissal was pretty much the same one I had when the Brewers fired Doug Melvin.

While I generally prefer to write about baseball rather than provide commentary about myself or the nature of baseball commentary as a profession, this news provides an opportunity to write something I probably should have written a few years ago. Because the Mariners haven’t been “my team” for a while now. I haven’t written a post at USSMariner in 18 months. I probably haven’t watched more than 20 or 30 innings of the Mariners games this year. Over the last five or so years, my fandom has waned, and now it’s probably at the point of dormancy.

I will note that this wasn’t really a conscious decision. While I’ve long been aware of the traditional “no cheering in the press box” rule, I don’t spend much time in press boxes, and I didn’t choose to renounce allegiance to a specific team in order to try and appear more objective. It just kind of happened. And as it was happening, I’ve spent some time thinking about why we become fans, and why I’ve been unbecoming one.

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JABO: The Mets Bullpen Gains a Pitch(er)

With the news this past weekend that (former) Diamondbacks reliever Addison Reed was headed to the Mets, New York may have finally secured the missing piece to their bullpen: a steady seventh-inning reliever to bridge the gap between the talented starting rotation and the eighth- and ninth-inning guys, Tyler Clippard and Jeurys Familia. This was a forward-looking move by the front office: an anticipation of, dare we say, the likely reality of the Mets in the playoffs.

Any memories of Reed’s 2015 season in Arizona — which was punctuated by early struggles, culminating in him losing the closer role — may need to be revised given his move to New York. While his lack of command was the main driver of his first half problems (as well as some bad luck in terms of balls put in play), his second half has been more along the lines of the reliever that at times showed dominance for the White Sox and Diamondbacks.

Let’s take a look at a few key stats for Reed between the first and second halves of the season to get a better handle on who the Mets might be getting in return for two young arms:

Strikeout % Walk % BABIP WHIP ERA FIP
First Half 17.7% 9.7% .363 1.73 5.92 3.90
Second Half 20.6% 4.4% .314 1.16 1.65 1.96

Reed’s command has returned in the almost two months since the All-Star break, his strikeout rate is up from the first half of the season, and his velocity is largely unchanged from the previous two seasons. The vital signs point to a useful reliever who has seemingly put both first half struggles and an injury behind him, one who will be at the very least an upgrade over the previous option of Hansel Robles (even though Robles has been very effective in the second half of the season).

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/31/15

12:00
Dan Szymborski: Gravy fries.

12:00
Dan Szymborski: Not actually eating them or going to , but I think thinking about them just now.

12:00
Dan Szymborski: Oh yeah, chat thing. Make good questions. COMMENCE!

12:00
Dan Szymborski: If this chat isn’t badass, each one of you is sued.

12:00
Comment From Miggy Azalea
KANYE 2016 YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEZZZZZ

12:01
Comment From Mike Trout Hurt His Wrist Masturbating
Can we talk about Trout’s sub .400 SLG in August? Shouldn’t the Angels shut him down?

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Appellate Court Sides with MLB in Minimum Wage Lawsuit

Major League Baseball’s pay practices have faced a series of legal challenges in recent years. The most notable of these cases center around allegations that MLB teams routinely fail to pay minor-league players in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the nation’s primary minimum wage and overtime law.

While the minor-league wage lawsuits have certainly generated the most attention to date, they were not the first in the recent wave of minimum-wage cases filed against MLB over the last few years. Instead, that distinction belongs to Chen v. Major League Baseball, a lawsuit alleging that MLB violated the FLSA by employing unpaid volunteers to work at the annual FanFest convention held in conjunction with the All-Star Game in New York City back in 2013.

The district court granted MLB an initial victory in the Chen case last year, determining that FanFest was not subject to the FLSA and therefore was immune from the federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. Now, in a recent decision issued earlier this month, MLB has scored yet another victory with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s finding that the FLSA does not apply to FanFest.

However, while the Chen decision certainly represents an important decision with respect to the rights of FanFest volunteers, the appellate court’s recent opinion appears unlikely to have a significant impact on the other minimum-wage lawsuits pending against the league. Therefore, the various lawsuits challenging both MLB’s minor league and scout pay practices remain very much alive despite the recent rulings in the FanFest case.

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NERD Game Scores for Monday, August 31, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Cleveland at Toronto | 19:07 ET
Salazar (144.1 IP, 82 xFIP-) vs. Price (182.1 IP, 84 xFIP-)
If one accepts the principle that the most compelling sort of baseball games — especially in late August or early September — are those which offer the greatest implications for the postseason, then one is likely to find him- or herself drawn either to the Blue Jays or Yankees for the time being, which clubs are separated by merely 1.5 games in the AL East. If one’s choices are dictated more strongly by another sort of principle, however, then it’s impossible to say which contest, if any, he or she might prefer. This is, of course, the damning reality facing any attempt to rate games based on their aesthetic appeal. “So why even bother attempting it?” one might ask. To which question I reply: “The awful inertia of any human endeavor.”

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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Mariners Dismiss Jack Zduriencik 2.0

Since the start of the 2009 season, no team has won fewer games than the Astros, and during that window they’ve picked up a new general manager. The Marlins have won the second-fewest games, and they technically changed general managers. So did the Cubs, with the third-fewest wins. So did the Rockies, with the fourth-fewest wins. And now so have the Mariners, with the fifth-fewest. Word went out Friday morning, on the firing of Jack Zduriencik, and though no one expected the specific timing, the writing had probably been on the wall. Think about the Mariners. Think about what you think about when you think about the Mariners. That’s why they made this decision. It felt inevitable, with the only question being, when would the blade drop?

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re no stranger to FanGraphs. If you’re no stranger to FanGraphs, I’m guessing you’ve seen a certain reference once or twice before. It’s this one. Years ago, FanGraphs tried to feature organizational rankings, and though we no longer do that, people have long memories, and in between 2009 and 2010, the site ranked the Mariners at No. 6, just above — also hilariously — the Rockies. A big reason was because the FG staff at that time collectively believed in the new Zduriencik front office. People laugh because, by and large, the Mariners have sucked. People laugh because, by and large, the front office seemingly took a step back. But I think this is particularly interesting to reflect upon. Say what you will about the ranking, but that’s what the staff believed. And not too long after, the front office completely changed its identity.

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NERD Game Scores for Sunday, August 30, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
New York AL at Atlanta | 13:35 ET
Eovaldi (144.0 IP, 97 xFIP-) vs. Teheran (157.1 IP, 105 xFIP-)
Last Monday, Eno Sarris examined in these pages the development of right-hander Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter, a pitch that — following a disaster start at Miami in June — Eovaldi began to throw roughly 4 mph harder than previously but also with the same amount of drop. That same evening as Sarris’s post, Eovaldi proceeded to record a higher usage rate with the splitter than with his fastball (while also throwing that same fastball at an average velocity of 98-99 mph). The results: the highest single-game whiff rate of Eovaldi’s season and also 8.0 shutout innings. This afternoon’s game against Atlanta — facilitated by Atlanta’s excellent center-field camera — represents an opportunity to observe Eovaldi’s transformation.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Heaney, Givens, Dombrowski, Lefties-vs-Lefties, more

Andrew Heaney was pitching in the Arizona Fall League when I first talked to him. A member of the Marlins organization at the time, he was 17 months removed from being drafted ninth overall out of Oklahoma State. This was in 2012, and Heaney had a clean delivery and a bright future.

He still has a bright future, although it’s now with the Angels. Anaheim acquired the 24-year-old southpaw from Miami, via the Dodgers, last winter. As for his delivery, it’s back after a brief hiatus.

“I went through a little funk last year,” Heaney told me earlier this month. “It’s hard to say exactly when it happened, but I developed some mechanical issues. It was also gradual, so I didn’t even feel it. I wasn’t pitching as well as I could, and I wasn’t sure why.”

Film from his time in the Fall League provided the answer. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: Kiley McDaniel, Lead Prospect Analyst

Episode 590
Kiley McDaniel is both (a) the lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs and also (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he discusses the curious treatment by the Washington Nationals of prospect Trea Turner, the uses and not-uses of big-league scouts, and McDaniel’s dramatic re-assessment of right-handed Houston prospect Francis Martes.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 55 min play time.)

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NERD Game Scores for Saturday, August 29, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
New York AL at Atlanta | 19:10 ET
Severino (23.0 IP, 90 xFIP-) vs. Wisler (64.2 IP, 127 xFIP-)
When observing the New York Yankees, one is observing a club afflicted by uncertainty. When observing Luis Severino, meanwhile, one is observing a pitcher engorged by talent. It’s a sort of litmus test — with which, of the two, one finds him- or herself identifying. Only one choice is sane, however.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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The Best of FanGraphs: August 24-28, 2015

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times, orange for TechGraphs and blue for Community Research.
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Jaime Garcia Pitching to Contact with Ace Stuff

Pitching to contact is a much-maligned, sometimes misunderstood philosophy. Inducing contact results in a hit 30% of the time while a runner can reach base on a strikeout only on the rare wild pitch or passed ball. The strikeout is a considerably better outcome, but attacking hitters and getting strike one, the philosophy espoused by Dave Duncan, can combine strikeouts, weak contact, and quick outs to form an incredibly effective pitcher. A half-decade after Duncan’s retirement, one of his former pupils, Jaime Garcia, is throwing strikes, getting ground balls, and keeping hitters off balance, potentially resurrecting a career that appeared doomed by injuries.

Garcia, a 22nd-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2005, made a brief appearance in the majors in 2008 before Tommy John surgery ended that season and cost him 2009 as well. Garcia came back strong in 2010, and in July 2011, he signed a four-year contract extension that included two team options. At the time, he had pitched nearly 300 innings with a 3.06 ERA and 3.46 FIP, but a year later he would suffer another injury, this time in his shoulder. Rehabilitation failed and in early 2013, he underwent surgery, missing the rest of the season and putting his career in doubt. He was not a part of the Cardinals’ plan to pitch in 2014, but he recovered and appeared briefly in 2014 before injuries again took over. This time, Garcia suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, the same condition ended the career of teammate Chris Carpenter. Again, he had surgery, and again, he was not a part of the Cardinals’ plans.

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The Orioles’ Frustrating Season

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Orioles. After a second trip to the postseason in three years, one in which they got about one-sixth of a season from Matt Wieters and half a season from Manny Machado, making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-1997 was the clear goal. It hasn’t happened that way. The team recently dropped six straight, and has dropped eight of their last 10, to give themselves a firm uphill climb toward a wild-card berth.

Perhaps what is most frustrating for the Orioles is that they have significantly outscored all four teams standing with them or in their way of the second wild-card slot:

American League Second Wild Card Competitors
Team W L Run Diff BR Run Diff WC Playoff Odds
Texas 65 61 -29 -43 28.2%
Anaheim 65 62 -4 -20 31.8%
Minnesota 65 62 -9 -80 13.0%
Tampa Bay 63 64 -19 21 10.7%
Baltimore 63 64 49 9 7.7%
BR = BaseRuns, WC = Wild Card

When you expand from actual run differential to BaseRuns run differential, you can see that the Rays have a legit case to be positioned ahead of Baltimore, but overall that has to be a pretty frustrating table for the Orioles and their fans.

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The Mystery of the Same Old Stephen Strasburg

The Nationals are in a pickle, and not one of those delicious hipster pickles with fresh dill and organic garlic cloves placed in a mason jar by a guy with lots of tattoos in some nondescript warehouse in Brooklyn. I’m talking a problem pickle. The kind you don’t want to see on your doorstep, the kind some hipster would make a horror film about with a hand-held camera in some nondescript warehouse in Brooklyn. Horror Pickle: The Dill of Death! It would be wonderfully awful! No, the nature of the Washington Nationals’ pickle comes from the lots of losing they’ve done this season — far more than the Mets, that is, who lead them both alphabetically (curse you, ancient Greeks!) and, possibly more importantly if more fleetingly, in the NL East standings.

Much has been said about the Nationals’ collapse, but some portion of their mediocre start falls on the broad shoulders of Stephen Strasburg, who my computer badly wants to call Stephen Starsbug, which needs to be a computer-animated movie starring Chris Pratt. In any case, Strasburg started out the season badly, then he hit the DL, then he pitched three games, then hit the DL again. His inconsistent health has been remarkably consistent. The odd thing was that, in between all these DL stints, Strasburg, one of the best pitchers in baseball since breaking into the majors in 2010, was awful. As Jeff Sullivan wrote about the issue back in May. Strasburg was having command issues, which manifested especially strongly with runners on base. But now he’s back (again) and he’s Stephen Strasburg again! What? How?

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The Pirates’ Unlimited Supply of Russell Martins

From 1990 to 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates averaged just over 96 wins per season. They were led by Jim Leyland and what we thought at the time were the peak seasons of Barry Bonds. The early ’90s Pirates were great, but they lost in the NLCS three times and then became the Pirates. From 1993 to 2012, their best finish was 79-83 and there were a lot of finishes worse than that.

So when the Pirates became good in 2013 and continued it into 2014, people began piecing together the puzzle that was the Steel City Renaissance. Maybe you’ve even read Travis Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball. The book is very much a spiritual successor to Moneyball in that it tells the story of a smaller market team trying to find ways to succeed in an environment in which they can’t spend on par with their rivals. In the modern game, data is everywhere. The story of the Pirates’ success was their ability to interpret the data and to get the field staff and players to believe in it.

One of the focuses of the book was the Pirates’ acquisition of Russell Martin. As a FanGraphs reader, you’re likely familiar with Martin’s excellent framing and defensive numbers. A league-average-hitting catcher with elite defensive ability is an extremely valuable piece, and the Pirates were the team that had the vision to sign him. The BABIP Gods rewarded them in spades in 2014 when he posted a BABIP roughly 50 points above his career average and produced a 141 wRC+. Martin was a valuable asset and wound up having an incredible offensive season in his walk year with the Pirates. His success proved the Pirates right, but it also put Martin out of their price range for 2015. He signed a five year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays this offseason.

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Batted-Ball Velocity, Adrian Beltre, and Xander Bogaerts

In batted-ball velocity numbers, we’ve got a new toy. It’s hard to know exactly how to use it, as it goes with many new statistical toys. Without even a full year of sample size, we have no idea how accurate the data coming in is, how sticky batted-ball velocity is year to year, or how much of a skill it is. Even worse, the data is incomplete — velocity without angle is somewhat useless, and the angle that’s coming through is only for home runs.

Is there a short-term fix? Is there a way to combine batted-ball velocity with existing stats to make it useful in the short term? I think there might be, and I think the stories of Xander Bogaerts and Adrian Beltre might help us find this patch.

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JABO: The Superficially Underachieving Dodger Offense

In a sense, there isn’t that much wrong with the Dodgers. They won on Thursday — albeit barely — and they stand in first place in their division. You could excuse them if they’ve gotten used to that. The last time the Dodgers weren’t in first place was one night in the last week of May. Prior to that, you’re looking at the second week of the season. All year long, they’ve been positioned well, and they have two unbelievable starting pitchers, and they’re heavily favored to advance to the first round of the playoffs. The Dodgers aren’t struggling. Most of the teams in baseball would be ecstatic to be where they are.

But, of course, not every team is equal, and given the Dodgers’ resources, it feels like they should be doing better. It feels like they should be almost unstoppable, unless they were to be brought down by injuries, like the Nationals. One could reasonably assert that the Dodgers should be running away with things, and that it’s worrisome they’re still fending off the Giants. The Dodgers might not make the NLDS. It’s unlikely, but very possible. Things just feel underwhelming. Observers feel it. The players themselves feel it.

Look over the numbers, and there’s one glaring curiosity. What might be one explanation for the Dodgers’ performance? You might be familiar with wOBA, which is like a better version of OPS. Right now, the Dodgers offense ranks third in wOBA in all of baseball. They lead the National League. What could be better than pairing a good offense with two proven aces? And yet, the Dodgers rank 18th in baseball in runs scored. By one measure, they’re tremendous. By another, they’re average. This is an unusual discrepancy.

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.


Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/28/15

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: Every week, I wonder what’s going to cause me to be late to open my chat

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: It always happens. This week, I was prepared for the scheduled beginning. Then Jack Zduriencik got fired

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: Sooooooo we’re probably going to talk about that a lot

9:17
Jeff Sullivan: Beginning now!

9:17
Comment From Pat s
Do you have any thoughts on Ben Gamel?

9:17
Jeff Sullivan: Pat s with the pressing question of the day

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